Celebrating Advent

Now that we are parents I have been very eager to start creating our “traditions”. Michael comes from a traditional family with lots of traditions but I didn’t….unless you count the traditional drunk holiday brawl or the annual someone cries at Thanksgiving because all the passive aggressive snide comments finally breaks them down. I’m certainly not looking to re-create those.

However when it comes to celebrating the Christmas season we’ve found plenty of ways to start injecting our own traditions. Our goal was to keep the holidays Christ-centered, meaningful and simple and avoid the mad dash crazy materialistic frenzy which leaves so many people feeling void and unfulfilled. One way we started was to forgo Santa and all that he entails. Sometimes it can be hard like when you see the kids at the mall in line for their pictures with the man in red but mostly it frees us up to take the focus off of “naughty and nice” and “loot lists”. Yes, we give gifts but we want that to be a small part of the celebration not the main event. So like last year Reagan will receive 3 gifts on Christmas which is symbolic of the gifts the Magi brought and she will receive a stocking. Last year this wasn’t difficult since she was still in the “I’d rather play with the box” phase but now that she is two and has definite interests and likes it is harder to limit myself. The cutest thing in the world is hearing her say “Mommy, I like babies”. She certainly does and we are smack dab in the mist of the dolly phase. Lots of people are asking her what she wants for Christmas. When she isn’t playing shy she will say things like shoes (this chick LOVES shoes) babies, pet shops and books. The other day I heard her say a kitty cat. So narrowing it down to 3 things when the variety and selection is so vast was challenging. Probably not as challenging as it could be for some families since we steer away from battery operated, character or plastic (although some has creeped in, I’m looking at you multiplying Pet Shops). One tradition from my childhood I will start with Reagan is opening on present on Christmas Eve. Although it will always be new pajamas.

Another tradition we started this year is celebrating Advent. There are many ways to celebrate Advent from doing it daily to something that is done on Sunday. But basically you light a candle(s) and read scripture about the birth of the Savior. So far we have found it an amazing and refreshing way to keep our thoughts focused on God’s precious gift of a Savior. We light our candles and read our scriptures each day but on Sunday we have a longer reading. We also spend time praying, singing and either having a yummy treat or doing a coloring sheet. Reagan also received a small gift from our Count Down to Christmas calendar each evening but her favorite part is blowing out the fire.

Here is our Advent calendar. A total DIY project made of things I had on hand.

The Christmas Countdown picture was made with a 12×12 canvas and scrapbook supplies I’ve had for years. I cut the letters with my handy dandy Cricut. I used a small curtain rod I’ve had since we moved here to string all the gifts up. They are each wrapped and numbered. There is a small dolly set for Sundays and a couple of books I found on the cheap but the rest is pretty much things scored from the Target dollar spot like little socks, chapstick and stickers. Oh and peppermints since Reagan loves peppermints. Nothing too exciting unless you are a toddler girl.

I’ve been trolling Pinterest for months looking for the perfect Advent calendar. In the end I ran out of time and had to wing it…turns out it is perfect for us!

Some of our other new holiday traditions include our church Christmas program, the holiday programs at the community school, visiting our neighbors and friends with treats and celebrating with our toddler friends with an upcoming cookie decorating party. I’ll let you know how that one turns out.



Tot Trays

I’ve missed blogging so I’m back. I have no acceptable excuse for such a long absence (nearly a year) other than I’m forgetful….and lazy. Never under-estimate the power those two characteristics have together.

Moving On.

Now that Reagan is 2 and smart as a whip she’s been keeping me on my toes with ways to stimulate, engage and challenge her. I also needed some ideas to encourage her to explore individually as opposed to needing constant companionship and guidance for every activity. As I re-read that I realize that sounds a bit harsh but have you ever encountered a toddler that won’t play on their own or the poor mom who needs a toddler-ectomy to remove the small person so attached to her rear end that she knocks them over every time she moves? Frightening, but also unhealthy for the toddler. So I found some fun activities to engage, encourage individual discovery and build confidence.

We’ve started Tot Trays at the Manor. Tot Trays are a Montessori inspired idea to introduce and engage toddlers in early learning skills and activities. Pinterest is full of ideas and the blog 1+1+1=1 is also a great resource. I would imagine that there are numerous ways to present this concept but I will just tell you how we are approaching it here at the Manor. This could also be entitled “Tot Trays on a Budget” since I’m still embracing frugality.

In our living room I’ve set up a hand me down bookcase right next to our piano. This is our tot tray station.

The top shelf holds our Advent things which I will talk to you about tomorrow. Promise. The next 3 shelves each hold 2 metal cookies sheets from the Dollar Tree. A lot of moms use plastic trays from Oriental Trading or the like but I’m not a huge fan of plastic or paying shipping. Each tray holds a different skill or activity. The tot can pick any tray they would like and engage in it for as long as she would like but she must return the tray to the shelf (and all the pieces on the tray) before selecting another tray. We really need to work on pick up after ourself around here. I will demonstrate the activities one time and only give guidance when she seeks it, other than that it is her gig. We also do not have “Tot Tray time” this is a self guided and directed activity that she can engage in when she chooses as long as we don’t have other chores, obligations ect. I will switch out the trays with other activities on a weekly basis.

So, what’s on the trays this week? Glad you asked…

Bean scooping. Great sensory activity and for building those fine motor skills.

Pouf ball counting/sorting. Great for learning numbers, counting, color sorting and fine motor skills (especially with the bagel tongs). Pouf balls are a big hit around the Manor, I practically buy them in bulk.

Paper cutting for that manual dexterity. Reagan loves to make confetti.

Decorate the Christmas Tree. I printed out a Christmas tree on cardstock and included plastic “jewels” and glue so she can design and decorate.


I brought down the Melissa and Doug Shape/Puzzle clock from the playroom so she can work on mastering puzzles, number and shape recognition and the beginning of time telling skills. It is a bit early for telling time but we can introduce the concept.

And in celebration of the season I made a Nativity magnet play set. I found the images here. I cut out, laminated and put magnets on them so she can play on the tray or the refrigerator. It is a fairly large set.

 This morning when she woke up I waited until she noticed the trays before I explained what they were. It didn’t take long as she is very observant. I also explained the ruler which are one tray at a time and clean up after yourself. As you can see so far she is very interested.

I plan on adding a basket where the guitar is to hold the books we are currently reading/interested in and a lap tray from Michaels craft store the next time I get up to Des Moines.

 All of the things I used to assemble the trays I either had on hand or got at the Dollar Tree (or hand on hand FROM the Dollar Tree). You can make a lot of magic happen with a well stocked art cupboard and a printer. Just a thought.